Salomon Jadassohn, Gloria Coates

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now eight years and counting) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902). Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor (1887). Markus Becker, piano, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Michael Sanderling. Hyperion 67636. Tr 4-6. 23:51

Gloria Coates (b.1938). Symphony No. 7 (1991). Stuttgart Philharmonic, Georg Schmöhe. CPO 999392-2. Tr 4-6. 25:16

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is on November 9th, 2009. Inspired by this historic event, the American composer Gloria Coates (who has lived in Germany for years) dedicated her seventh symphony “to those who brought down the Wall in PEACE.” Salomon Jadassohn was an eminent composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher in Germany. Although he died in 1902, his works were banned by anti-Semitic followers of Richard Wagner in the 1930s. Fortunately, his music (ironically influenced by Wagner) is beginning to be heard once again.

JadassohnJadassohn attended the Leipzig Conservatory shortly after its founding by Felix Mendelssohn and eventually taught piano and composition there. He had studied piano with Ignaz Moscheles and Franz Liszt, and among his influences in composition were Liszt and Wagner. He was a well-respected teacher who produced manuals on harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration that were used for years. Grieg, Delius, and one of last month’s composers on Discoveries, George Chadwick, all studied with him.

His many works, including this inventive second concerto, are wonderful examples of the Romantic idiom. But Jadassohn never achieved first-rank fame. The bigger star in Leipzig at the time was Carl Reinecke, who directed the Conservatory and conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Moreover, the music of Jadassohn and other Jewish composers was labeled “degenerate” by the Nazis, so his posthumous reputation never gained the traction that sometimes occurs for composers in succeeding generations.

CoatesGloriaWith the increase in recordings of unheralded composers (greatly encouraged by the Fleisher Collection), that barrier to his music is only now coming down. However, the powerful Symphony No. 7 of Gloria Coates celebrates the 1989 demolition of a literal wall, the one built by the Communists in 1961 to separate East and West Berlin. This symphony is not a programmatic piece, but it’s hard not to hear an homage to the perseverance and ultimate victory of those who lived to witness the end of that calamity.

Her 15 symphonies have to be more than any woman has ever composed, and Coates uses a favorite technique in her Seventh: the orchestral glissando. Slow, insistent slides, up and down throughout the various sections of the ensemble, are surprisingly compelling in their strength. This is formidable and exciting music. While she counts Bach and Palestrina as her biggest influences (and a close study reveals her love of counterpoint), one detects a patient unfolding similar to the first hearing of a Bruckner symphony, with sudden epiphanies along the way. Another surprise is that Coates studied with Otto Luening, who studied with Ferruccio Busoni, who studied with… Jadassohn.

May the walls continue to fall.

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